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Sir Richard Branson EXCLUSIVE: One-time guest star on Friends weighs in on sitcom being ‘anti-LGBT’

Businessman and media mogul Sir Richard Branson famously appeared on sitcom Friends in 1998 as a souvenir seller, while the cast shot an episode in London.

And while his guest role happened when the show was arguably in its heyday, Friends has come under fire in recent years by those trawling through the story-lines to pick apart gags and plots that, nowadays, appear non-PC.

But Branson – a staunch equality activist who, only last month, hosted Virgin Atlantic’s Pride Flight for New York Pride – has now weighed in on the debate, insisting that historical criticism is inevitable.

In defense of Friends: Richard Branson has weighed in on the argument that 90s/00s sitcom Friends made jokes towards the LGBT community at their expense [pictured in The One With Ross's Wedding in 1998 with Matthew Perry and Matt Le Blanc]

In defense of Friends: Richard Branson has weighed in on the argument that 90s/00s sitcom Friends made jokes towards the LGBT community at their expense [pictured in The One With Ross’s Wedding in 1998 with Matthew Perry and Matt Le Blanc]

Speaking to MailOnline at a press event at the Beekman Hotel in downtown Manhattan, the 69-year-old responded to the fact that Friends has been labelled homophobic and transphobic.

‘I haven’t seen [Friends] since those days,’ he said. ‘But if you go back in history, you’re going to find lots of examples like that, aren’t you?

‘It’s something [candidate for the US presidential election in the 2020] Joe Biden is suffering from at the moment. Not to do with gay people, but [he’s suffering from] things he did years ago.

‘But people can change. Society can change. And attitudes, generally, change for the positive.’

Weighing in: Speaking to MailOnline at the Beekman Hotel in downtown Manhattan, the 69-year-old responded to the fact that Friends has been labelled homophobic and transphobic

Weighing in: Speaking to MailOnline at the Beekman Hotel in downtown Manhattan, the 69-year-old responded to the fact that Friends has been labelled homophobic and transphobic

Guest star: The businessman and media mogul famously appeared on the American sitcom in 1998 as a souvenir seller, while the cast shot an episode in London

Guest star: The businessman and media mogul famously appeared on the American sitcom in 1998 as a souvenir seller, while the cast shot an episode in London

Branson added: ‘Obviously future sitcoms or films must portray things differently.’

Friends featured several issues surrounding the LGBT community, right from it’s first episode when the character of Ross Geller [David Schwimmer] found himself in the midst of a divorce after wife Carol [Jane Sibbett] left him for a woman.

This sprung a further story-line when, in episode two, he learnt that Carol was pregnant, raising the issue of co-parenting between a straight father, a lesbian mother and her partner.

In other episodes, it became a running gag that the character of Chandler Bing [Matthew Perry] found it offensive that people mistook him for being gay, especially in light of the fact that his father – an unseen character until season 7 – was a drag queen in Vegas [played by Kathleen Turner].

20 years later: 'I haven’t seen [Friends] since those days,' he said. 'But if you go back in history, you’re going to find lots of examples like that, aren't you?'

20 years later: ‘I haven’t seen [Friends] since those days,’ he said. ‘But if you go back in history, you’re going to find lots of examples like that, aren’t you?’

Mogul: Branson is a staunch equality activist who, only last month, hosted Virgin Atlantic's Pride Flight for New York Pride

Mogul: Branson is a staunch equality activist who, only last month, hosted Virgin Atlantic’s Pride Flight for New York Pride

Marta Kauffman and David Crane – who created the series – have since defended the fact that the Bing men were the butt of ‘homophobic’ gags – explaining that Chandler ‘had his own anxieties and issues’.

‘I don’t think the character was homophobic in the least,’ Crane argued in a recent interview, with Kauffman officially confirming ‘his father’s transgender’ – a progressive plot device  for the early noughties.

In additional stories, later scrutinised by today’s critics, Joey Tribbiani [Matt Le Blanc] struggled with the fact that he enjoyed carrying around a unisex bag, and Ross took issue with hiring a male nanny and the fact that his son played with a Barbie doll.

It seems Branson stopped watching the sitcom after his season 4 appearance – despite the show going on for another six years.

The One With Chandler's Dad: It became a running gag that Chandler Bing [Matthew Perry] had a father who was a drag queen in Vegas [played by Kathleen Turner, pictured]

The One With Chandler’s Dad: It became a running gag that Chandler Bing [Matthew Perry] had a father who was a drag queen in Vegas [played by Kathleen Turner, pictured]

The One With Joey's Bag: In another story, later scrutinised by today's critics, Joey Tribbiani [Matt Le Blanc] struggled with the fact that he enjoyed carrying around a unisex bag

The One With Joey’s Bag: In another story, later scrutinised by today’s critics, Joey Tribbiani [Matt Le Blanc] struggled with the fact that he enjoyed carrying around a unisex bag

But he remembers purposely catching up on the series ahead of his own guest role.

‘I remember I spend a very long wet weekend in England watching every episode with my kids, laughing our heads off,’ he remembers.

Of his brief stint on the show – in an episode that also featured the likes of Jennifer Saunders, June Whitfield and The Duchess Of York Sarah Ferguson in guest roles – Branson went on to reveal how being in the sitcom made him more recognisable when out in public.

‘It’s funny… after being in that little episode of Friends I was walking down the street in New York and I heard these people say “oh there’s that guy from Friends”,’ he recalled, adding, jokingly: ‘I thought, my god, I spend all these years working to build up [my reputation…]’

Happy Pride! The Pride Flight, hosted by Branson, saw him charter one of Virgin's planes to ship a host of famous famous and LGBT supporters to NYC for the weekend of New York Pride at the end of June

Happy Pride! The Pride Flight, hosted by Branson, saw him charter one of Virgin’s planes to ship a host of famous famous and LGBT supporters to NYC for the weekend of New York Pride at the end of June

Celebration! Branson threw a bash at the 1,250 foot high One World Observatory for guests - including Scarlett Moffatt

Celebration! Branson threw a bash at the 1,250 foot high One World Observatory for guests - including Courtney Act

Celebration! Branson threw a bash at the 1,250 foot high One World Observatory for guests – including the likes of [L-R] Scarlett Moffatt and Courtney Act

The Pride Flight, hosted by Branson, saw him charter one of Virgin’s planes to ship a host of famous famous and LGBT supporters to NYC for the weekend of New York Pride at the end of June.

Teaming up with the New York City tourist board, the trip was a particularly poignant one for the LGBT attendees, as it fell on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising which took place on the same weekend in 1969 and saw members of the gay community riot against a police raid at gay haunt The Stonewall Inn. 

Branson laid on a walking tour with Oscar Wilde Tours, hosted by historian Andrew Lear, and threw a celebratory bash at the 1,250 foot high One World Observatory for guests – including the likes of Courtney Act, Scarlett Moffatt, Saara Aalto and MNEK – where he delivered a stirring speech about his continual search for equality. 

In support: Saara Aalto attended the event, where Branson delivered a stirring speech about his continual search for equality

In support: MNEK attended the event, where Branson delivered a stirring speech about his continual search for equality

In support: Musicians [L-R] Saara Aalto and MNEK attended the event, where Branson delivered a stirring speech about his continual search for equality

Never one to rest on his laurels, last week Branson accepted Hollywood actor pal Will Smith’s challenge to ‘get training’ ahead of London’s ASICS 10K on Sunday.

Smith announced his eco-positive partnership between JUST Goods and Virgin Sport by posting a personal video to his 35 million Instagram followers, which saw him urge runners to ‘keep your heads up, push your limits and keep hydrated’ using JUST Water cartons instead of single-use plastic bottles.

In an effort to eliminate plastic usage, an additional 40,000 single-use bottles were removed from the route and replaced with 100 percent recyclable cups during the run on Sunday. 

Branson – as well as accepting the challenge by posting a humorous video in response to Will’s, of him ‘training’ at home – is removing 500,000 single-use plastic bottlesfrom all Virgin Sport’s events in 2019.

Daily Mail UK

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